Wednesday, 20 March 2013


On your marks, get set...
Here in the uk there seems to have been a fair amount of agonising over whether competitive sport is a good or bad thing for young children. For several years it was the trend for primary schools to ditch the traditional sports day, where children competed against each other, for a non-competitive, "everyone tries everything and sees if they can improve their own personal skills" day.
With the influence of the fantastic 2012 Olympics, policy seems to be reverting the other way, with competitive team sports at least being made compulsory in schools.
Zac loving his first school sports day.
I'm not sure where I stand! The school I used to teach at had a sports day that consisted entirely of races. It went like clockwork, each year group split into boys and girls and each doing running, sack, egg and spoon and skipping races until 60 odd races later there was a whole school relay to finish it off. The trouble was that for every child that loved sports day there was another that hated it. Coming last in your races in front of friends and family for 7 years on the trot is probably not that great for self-esteem and being a not very sporty or competitive person myself I entirely sympathised. However, life is competitive. There will come a time when they will do tests and exams in various subjects and will no doubt be aware of who gets the best/worst grades, they will compete for jobs and promotions and some will win and some won't, perhaps the sports field is just the same- if a bit more public.

Round the bamboo and back.
All this preamble is a bit irrelevant, because whatever I feel about competition, the boys definitely love a bit of it. They instigated races and competitions themselves when they were still really small and still look for new challenges to check out who's the fastest, bravest, best at balancing etc. Of course, having sporty challenges in the great outdoors is free entertainment and has got to be good for them physically if not emotionally, so here are a few things we did which might be fun to try.
We have a little "mound" in our garden which I persuaded Martin to make when the boys were very small. It looks a bit nuts but otherwise the garden is pretty much flat which is quite limiting- nothing to roll, bike, sledge down and not much to hide behind.
False start ducks!
This mound has been the launch point for lots of racing- both on foot and on wheels. One of the boys decides a course eg "down the mound, down the garden, round the bamboo and back- first one to jump off the back of the mound is the winner," and off they go. They are becoming more evenly matched so it is more of a true race now but when Danny was very little Zac used to win pretty much every time. Luckily, Zac is the more competitive and Danny's really in it for the fun so he didn't seem to mind much. We did have conversations about fairness and the fact that Danny had littler legs, and Zac was sometimes prepared to let him have a headstart or to let him win WITHOUT actually telling him that! There was added excitement when the two runner ducks we hatched last winter were grown up enough to race too, although they weren't very good at waiting for the Go!

Something to jump off.
Something to crawl through
Something to climb over.
Next came obstacle races. Down the garden, crawl under the bench, balance along the planks, kick a ball into the goal and back to the mound. The variations on this theme are endless. Admittedly, you have to have a bit of space, so if you don't have much garden it might need a trip to the park, but then anything can be turned into an obstacle. Jump on and off the step 5 times, run round the tree 3 times one way 3 times the other, crawl from this bush to the next etc etc. Once you've set a few challenges, they're more than capable of thinking up their own.
And if there's only one of them, or they don't compete without world war III ensuing, then a race against a stop-watch is equally fun. How long does it take you to........? Can you do it even faster next time? They will push themselves to beat their own record, and keep going with the same challenge for that much longer which is great exercise.
This was a popular activity with Danny when Zac had started at school full time and Dan was still a part-time preschooler. I was once counting seconds for Danny to see how fast he could zoom on his like-a-bike down the path at the rec and back. After about 5 trips there and back I forgot to count.
Danny, "Mummy! I can't hear you counting!"
Me, "Sorry Danz, I was just thinking how grown-up you look on your bike and I forgot to count."
Danny, "Grrrr mummy. Now I have to do it again, and this time NO THINKING ABOUT ANYTHING!"

Setting out the start line for a family race round the holiday house!
 So there it is. How about a family sports day to get everyone outside and active. I'm sure the kids can think of ways of handicapping the grown ups so everything's fair!

I just added this post to the active family linky:

 photo ActiveFamily150x150_zps28e829a4.jpg

Monday, 18 March 2013


It's just what I always wanted!
I am starting to have to think harder about ideas for my blog. Until now, I've had a quick (or sometimes more lengthy and nostalgic) look at my millions of pics of the boys when they were small, and a topic has jumped out at me. But now they generally fall under one of the random categories I've already wittered on about.
The thing is, there's one whole area I've steered away from, and that is TOYS. This is partly because I wanted to blog about ideas that didn't cost much, if anything. I'm basically a thrifty person and I'm also well aware that there are lots of parents out there bringing up kids in a much less privileged situation than I am lucky enough to be trying it.
But you can get hand-me-down toys for free or car boot/ charity shop toys for nearly nothing, so it's not just that. I think it's because I don't actually rate most toys that highly. It's funny, our house is quite littered with the things, and a few of them have been well loved, but playing with them only seems to account for a very small proportion of the boys' lives. I think it's because most toys are something, so they can't be anything else. Once they've been it, they've had it.
My blog is about encouraging curiosity and creativity, it's about learning new things, it's about being active and being outside, and I guess there are just not that many toys which can really fulfill this role in the same way that something like mud can!!

The boys aren't massively consumerist, they don't pester to have all the latest things, but when Christmas comes round they do now have pretty clear ideas about what they'd like. As a parent it's hard not to feel like you'd do anything to make them happy, even if you realise that the joyful moment when they open that perfect gift will only last until they've discovered that actually making something out of the box is more interesting than playing with the toy again. We don't go mad. We don't spend more than we can afford and we have no qualms about telling them if the object of their desire is more than we're prepared to spend. But we do sometimes buy them presents that we know in our hearts are not going to be the life-changing acquisition the child has built it up to be. I guess the look on their faces when they open it up is an irresistible gift for us.

Of course, there are toys which do encourage creativity. Zac's ability to spend hours making combine harvesters, aeroplanes, Thunderbirds etc etc out of random pieces of lego makes me love the stuff, despite its ability to invade the whole house and the agony of stepping on a brick in the dark. Danny's endearing and enduring love of some of his soft toys also makes me happy. The way he talks to them and takes them on adventures is fantastic for imaginative play. So I reserve the right to mention toys in my blogs of the future, as with my posts on wheels and balls, but for the time being I'm going to try and stick to the more free-form types of play.

Let's Lego!
Soft toy joy!

Thursday, 14 March 2013


Can you balance on one wheel?

Big kids' wheelbarrow race.

One wheel,

All grown up.
Boys' outing

Like-a-bike racing.

Two wheels,

Triking with my cousin.
Birthday scooter

Three wheels,

Taking Danny for a ride
New Bike

Go go go-kart.

We love wheels, can we have some more?

Danny "walking" aged 9 months.
In a break with my own blogging code I can't resist doing a post on things with wheels, even tho they are generally not free! (Having said that, almost every bike we've owned has been a hand-me-down from bigger cousins, and most of our baby ride-ons came from jumble sales so it is possible to have lots of fun on wheels without breaking the bank.) I can't miss wheels out, as they have definitely been one of our major sources of entertainment, and they certainly helped me with my mission to have the boys outside and active as much as possible. So here are a few little thoughts on ways to enjoy wheels.

Before they learned to ride on wheels, our wheeled walker got both boys up on their feet and mobile. It was pretty stable, and on grass it didn't run away with them, although we used to put a really heavy recipe book in it to slow it down on smoother surfaces. They both enjoyed pushing each other about in it too! We also had a couple of toy mowers which served a similar purpose.
Check me out!

Once they were reasonably good at balancing we had some little ride-ons. Going forward took a lot of concentration and a fair amount of co-ordination, tho shunting backwards was a bit easier!
Beep beep! It's a tractor mower!

They also liked the challenge of rolling down our little mound on them without toppling off!

Watch me zoom!

I can ride a big bike, but how do I stop?"
When it came time to think about bikes, we inherited a wooden like-a-bike from their cousins. It's just like a normal bike only without pedals! I'm not sure if anything like them existed when we were kids but I'm a total convert. It did take Zac a while to master the skill of balancing himself so that he could put all his weight on the seat and just use his legs to propel himself along, but once he got the hang of it he was off. He zoomed everywhere and was soon happy to cruise down hills without putting his feet down. This meant that when it came to transferring to a bike with pedals (also inherited!) he was so confident about balancing and steering that the only new thing to master was the pedalling. He never had the need for stabilizers and went from one to the other with very little difficulty at all when he was about 4 and a half. I regret that we got Danny his big bike before he'd really mastered his like-a-bike. He's gone down the stabilizer route and I don't think it's nearly as easy, because you learn to rely on the stabilizers to keep you upright and it's harder to build up your ability to balance well.

Bike slalom.
Being able to ride bikes confidently meant they set up obstacle courses and jumps in the garden for added entertainment. Zac liked making a slalom out of flower pots and then gradually moving them closer and closer together to see if he could still get through the gaps without touching one, and they both liked going over a jump made from a couple of bricks and a bit of board.

Bye bye my baby boy!
There is something really lovely about being able to go for a bike ride in the country. We've found a few traffic free places to go and it's nice to be able to go quite a long distance much more quickly than if you were on foot. One favourite is an old railway line that has been converted to a cycle track. It passes through farm land and woodland and you have to go over a big bridge over a main road so there is lots of variety along the way. Going on a bike ride to the river was the first time I had a real pang of knowing that Zac was growing up and away from me when I watched him heading off down the track on his big bike all by himself.

We have other wheeled toys too. Danny loves his scooter- mostly because it makes him feel like one of the lads! There's a large group of boys in our village who use a bit of wide tarmac-ed pavement at the end of our drive to practise all their scooter tricks and Dan loves to stand and watch them. He's been allowed out to join them a bit, but since they're all at least four years older and hopefully have a lot more road sense, this is not as often as he'd like! We also have the go-kart, which I accidentally won in a school auction when I was teaching, long before I had kids of my own. They love it but it's big and heavy which makes it hard to transport, and there aren't many good hills around us with safe places to ride it.

Hey ho! Enough for now,
...don't get me started on small toys with wheels!

Stunt Pooh takes a leap!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Baking soda

Pesty pox- Zac does a great zombie impression!
The last few weeks have been poxy! Danny had it mildly and entirely over the half term break- perfect. Zac's just had it REALLY badly and missed two weeks of school- not perfect at all! Since chicken pox has been going around the village, lots of people had good advice about how to ease the itching, mostly involving what to put in the bath. So Zac has been thoroughly steeped in porridge oat goo, cider vinegar potion, and baking soda bubbles. Both boys enjoyed the oats best. It meant they had a pair of my tights with oats in each foot dangling from the taps. The oats went all squishy- and they loved to squeeze them like an 80s exec's stress ball, plus the tights could be used for bath toys to climb up, slide down, balance across etc. However I had most faith in the baking soda because since having children I have discovered it has many magical uses!
Erupting the papier mache volcano.
I have already mentioned volcanoes in a couple of my posts. We have an indoor one, that we made from papier mache, and Zac has created outdoor ones from a pile of mud on several occasions. Both can be erupted by putting some red food colouring in a cupful of vinegar, and then adding a heaped teaspoonful of baking soda.
And now for the mud version.

The lava rises up in the crater and oozes down the sides in quite a realistic way, although I'm always a bit sorry there's not more of an explosion! (Update- just found a new recipe- ketchup, washing up liquid, a bit of water and then baking soda- it works loads better than vinegar!)

My balloon "pinged up!

We have used this fizzy reaction in other experiments too. One that we saw on tele which is quite funny, and a little bit rude if your mind works that way, is to put the baking soda and vinegar combo in a plastic drinks bottle and put a balloon over the top. The gas produced by the reaction in the bottle inflates the balloon and makes it stand up.

Waiting for blast off.
Father Christmas also gave the boys a mini rocket that uses soda power to launch it into the air, and some tiny plastic submarines which dive and surface in a glass of water when you put baking soda inside.

Baking with the semi-naked chef!
Of course, we also use baking soda in baking! Danny's favourite recipe is one for banana cake, which is great because it uses up the over-ripe bananas we often have about the house! The first time I really let him do all the measuring himself he insisted on adding one massively heaped teaspoon of baking soda, instead of the level teaspoon prescribed by the recipe, and it rose beautifully and was a much better texture than usual, so now I bow to his methods!

I know that baking soda also has magical cleaning properties, but since cleaning is absolutely not my area of expertise, you'll have to go elsewhere for those tips. However, here are a few links to other great soda ideas that I'm looking forward to letting the boys try:

And here's someone who made their own baking soda rocket:

I just linked this post to a great site with more kitchen experiments to try:
Inspiration Laboratories

Tuesday, 5 March 2013


Doomed to sit on the toilet lid!
"Mummy, I want to shut myself in the downstairs loo."
In our house this statement means that one of the kids has found something that lights up or glows! Our downstairs toilet is the only place where you can achieve near total darkness without having to squeeze yourself onto a shelf in a cupboard, and is therefore the place of choice for experimenting with light. On the most recent occasion it was a toy Spiderman, whose web looked like it was made from the same stuff as the luminous stars on the boy's bedroom ceiling, but all sorts of other things have spent time in there despite the fact there's barely room to wave a glow stick let alone wield a lightsabre!

Glow stick frenzy
Exploring darkness and light is fascinating to young children and has the exciting element of risk since the darkness can seem pretty scary. It's a good thing to do in wintertime, when there's a lot more opportunity to experiment with the dark, and it's great for developing natural curiosity. Giving the children a light source like a torch, glow stick or glow-in-the dark toy and letting them turn it on and off, or just wave it around in a dark space will let them find out all sorts about the nature of light and dark.

Exploring the woods after dark.
When it comes to bedtime both our boys are somewhat afraid of the dark. No matter how many times we've let them turn the light on and off to prove that everything is exactly the same you just don't see it the same way when it's not lit up, they still like to have a lantern style torch which stays on in their room, and we have to leave the landing light on too. However, when the darkness is part of an experiment they can both overcome this fear. They love nothing more than exploring with a torch, and will happily run around the garden looking for hedgehogs or trying to round up our ducks after dark provided they have a torch to wave. The fear isn't gone, but the excitement makes it bearable.

With my trusty torch I can make it through.

We often go to a local stately home, which has a wonderful park and an adventure playground. The playground gives them the thrill of climbing really high and sliding down massively long slides, but the place that definitely makes their adrenaline pump is a dark cave/tunnel behind a waterfall at the far end of the grounds. At the mid point it is totally pitch black and you have to feel your way along the walls. The boys always go through it with their torches first, but recently the challenge has then been to get through without switching on!

Zac letting the glitterball catch the sun.

You can experiment with natural light too. Reflecting sunlight off a shiny surface to make a little "fairy" fly around the room kept the boys entertained for ages trying to catch it. Zac loved an old disco ball that made it seem like we were in a snowstorm when the sunlight caught all its tiny mirrors; and seeing light refracted into rainbow colours through a glass or prism seems really magical.
We made a baby rainbow!

What am I?
And of course, you can experiment with blocking natural light to make shadows, look at the shadows cast by things around you, and see how your own shadow changes at different times of the day.

So before the days lengthen out and darkness becomes harder to find, why not give them a torch and see what they can find out about light and dark.